In 2014, Fairfax County, Va., began a $60 million project to replace outdated wastewater disinfection technology with ultraviolet disinfection (UV). Our old sodium hypochlorite system was complicated to operate, labor-intensive to monitor, and expensive to maintain. A modern solution for disinfecting bulk effluent and reuse water would also better position the treatment plant to comply with permits and state regulations for higher flows predicted over its 20-year service life.
The Fairfax, Va., office of Hazen and Sawyer was hired to design the new facility. Everything from the preliminary analysis to engineering design went smoothly. However, procuring highly specialized UV equipment takes a long time, and the UV systems are all different.
“That’s not an off-the-shelf solution,” says Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Project Manager Matt Doyle. It could take up to a year to get equipment onsite after review and approval, and the facility’s design hinged on knowing what equipment would be utilized.
The goal of meeting the targeted 2020 completion date was in jeopardy. To potentially save time and money going forward, the project team decided to investigate using construction management at risk (CMAR) instead of design-bid-build.
With CMAR, the construction manager (which may also serve as the general contractor) is selected based on qualifications and cost, not just cost alone (low bid). The construction manager is brought on board much earlier in the process (during design), which improves cost estimating and scheduling. CMAR also allows a fully integrated team -- owner, designer, and construction manager -- to work together during design to avoid delays caused by change orders during construction. The construction manager provides a guaranteed maximum price (GMP), which the owner (county) can accept or reject and bid the project elsewhere.
The only problem was that our county had never executed a CMAR contract.
Possible rewards outweigh risks
Starting from ground zero, Capital Facilities staff within the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services worked with the county attorney’s office and the Department of Procurement and Material Management to create the necessary administrative procedures. The process took only six months to complete, but it wasn’t easy.
Making major changes to the county’s procurement and bidding process required building consensus internally, weighing risks versus rewards, and lots of collaboration. As Capital Facilities Director Ron Kirkpatrick says, “A change this big needed a champion.”
Wastewater Design and Construction Division Director Brad Melton was that champion.
Melton led the push by making the case that the project would never meet the 2020 target date without CMAR. He knew that hiring the right company with the right experience and qualifications would result in a higher-quality finished product. The idea of partnering with a contractor and tackling problems with a team approach just made sense for such a complicated project.
Kirkpatrick, Melton’s supervisor, agreed.
“This is a rare opportunity to have all parties working together,” he says. He was particularly attracted to the clause that allows the county to bid the project out if the maximum price is too high. “Even if you take the off ramp after the GMP, the design is done and integrated,” he says.
The county attorney’s office oversees construction services procurement. Their first question was whether the process was legally allowed and, if not, what had to be in place before the team could proceed.
To deliver a CMAR project, the county must comply with the Virginia Public Procurement Act. The law requires the county to have a licensed architect or engineer review the RFP; adopt, by ordinance or resolution, written procedures governing the selection, evaluation, and award of such contracts; be consistent with procedures adopted by the Virginia Secretary of Administration; document in writing why CMAR is better than competitive sealed bids for a specific project; and explain how the public benefits from using CMAR instead of other delivery options.
Department of Procurement and Material Management Deputy Director Patti Innocenti then researched the policies Capital Facilities needed to adopt to execute the contract. The Virginia Public Procurement Act is part of the Virginia Code, which had changed since the county updated administrative procedures in 2008.
So, she says, “we tossed them out and started a collaborative process to write new procedures.”
The team reviewed how CMAR was being used throughout the commonwealth, but not many local governments in Virginia have large projects for which CMAR makes sense. Many universities use it, but they’re exempt from most procurement rules the county must follow.
“Ultimately, there were documents that were models from other governmental bodies, and collective knowledge of all the engineers in the room,” Innocenti says.
The county’s new procedures allow CMAR to be used when fast-tracking is needed, when value engineering and/or constructability analyses concurrent with design are required, and when projects are at least $10 million or have a special waiver. The county Board of Supervisors adopted them in October 2015.
That cleared the way for awarding the first CMAR project. The county hired outside counsel to help draft the contract and general conditions, language that can be tweaked as needed for future CMAR projects.
In early 2016, the county awarded the contract to Ulliman Schutte Construction LLC, a Miamisburg, Ohio, company with an office in Chantilly, Va. The contractor had completed a design-bid-build wastewater project a few years earlier.
$4 million in savings before construction begins
As the Wastewater Treatment Division’s engineering support branch manager, Sarah Motsch knows the pros and cons of design-bid-build contracts for complicated capital projects. It’s a challenge to keep up with reviews and make decisions during design, so she sees bringing the contractor on earlier in the process as a way to be more agile.
To Motsch, low-bid contracting is luck of the draw, and CMAR removes uncertainty. “Quality on construction is very hard to do,” she says. “A little corner cut during construction that impacts quality can have a huge financial impact through the life of a facility.”
Doyle oversees many wastewater projects, and haggling with contractors is his least favorite part of the job. “Many people who are doing design-bid-build work are going to get into some heated disagreements,” he says. “It’s not fun. It can be brutal and harsh.” CMAR’s open book methodology, with costs documented up front, eases tension between contractor and owner.
The county has already benefited from its new project delivery method. Ulliman Schutte’s suggestions for stockpiling, rerouting a pipeline around a building, and creating an early-start package to prepare the site while the design was finalized has saved about $3.5 million. With design-bid-build, that money would have gone to the contractor’s bottom line.
“We put our constructability hats on and worked together as opposed to apart,” Doyle says. “Finding millions of dollars in savings before this thing is even built is priceless,” he says.
A more productive relationship with the contractor is just one benefit of CMAR. In the past, contracts had to be modified to allow investigation and permits, archaeological surveys, and utilities work; with CMAR, the construction manager can do this work. The county/contractor team is using a cloud-based document management tool to share utility locations, asbestos tests, and soil boring findings, all of which are being saved for future reference.
Saving time and money, keeping organized records, and working collaboratively are major benefits for any public agency that uses CMAR. But for us, thanks to our contractor’s capabilities, the most exciting is getting to use emerging technologies.
Building information modeling on steroids
Because of the unique nature of the project and the contract, we wanted to try something new and different. Using Autodesk’s AutoCAD, Ulliman Schutte created a 3D rendering of the UV disinfection facility’s filter room that made it easier for people who don’t normally read plans to see how the final product would look. Plant operators were able to rotate and view the model on-screen and suggest modifications.
Then we took the rendering to the next step by creating a building information model (BIM).
BIM is different from a 3D rendering in that it includes quantities: volume, area, square footage, and length. Every design element has a database of information behind it, similar to how GIS maps display layers of asset information. The result is a much more dynamic design tool. Quantities can be exported and analyzed to provide accurate cost estimates.
Technological savvy was one criterion in the CMAR RFQ process, and Ulliman Schutte had impressed us during early presentations with examples from the company’s other collaboratively delivered water and wastewater projects. At the 35% design stage, the team entered the AutoCad BIM into Unity and Revit software and then viewed it using Occulus Rift virtual reality glasses. While seated in a chair, operators and mechanics “walked” through the space using a controller, looking for head-knockers, conflicts, and safety issues.
The team was excited about virtual reality, but the immersive experience sometimes left users feeling dizzy and nauseous. Then Ulliman Schutte introduced us to Microsoft’s HoloLens, computerized goggles that superimpose holographic-like images onto an existing environment, such as a room or onto a table. In addition to the virtual BIM, the wearer sees everything else present (furniture, walls, people), an experience called augmented reality.
Augmented versus virtual reality
When the online game Pokémon Go craze swept the country in 2016, mainstream America was introduced to the concept of augmented reality. Viewed through a smartphone’s camera, animated characters appeared to be moving through real space, but the characters could only be viewed on-screen. In the augmented reality created by HoloLens, rather than steering through a virtual environment with a controller or being confined to a screen, the user walks around the hologram in the real world.
“When we have a very complicated room full of pipes and pumps, how are you going to thread duct work through this maze in this tunnel?” asks Doyle. “You can do that virtually. Maybe, possibly, even design in the tunnel.”
HoloLens syncs with Microsoft’s personal digital assistant Cortana, which allows wearers to move the model by issuing verbal commands. Doyle scaled up the 200- by 100-foot filter building inside a large public atrium and invited plant operators and engineers to share their feedback during the quality control period.
Scott Crowder, project executive at Ulliman Schutte, says people who wear HoloLens for the first time usually say, “Wow!” and then reach out to touch the holograms. “It’s hard to understand the impact until you try it yourself,” he says.
When the model is scaled down to fit on a desk, HoloLens users can lean forward and look inside rooms, walk around the model to view it from different angles, and increase its size to examine it more closely. When the model is presented at a larger size, they can walk through the model and get a realistic sense of the space.
The first six operators to experience the model in augmented reality noticed that some walkways were too narrow, valves were inaccessible, headroom was lacking, and other potential safety hazards. Based on their recommendations, sampling and instrument locations have been modified to meet their needs, which will save money on operations and maintenance.
“Generally, the more complex the process or structure, the more valuable the visualization is,” says Crowder. “There’s something fundamentally different about being able to walk around and through a model, all while manipulating it on demand. It eliminates the, ‘It’s not really what I expected’ scenario.”
Get in and walk around
Hazen and Sawyer Vice President Janice Carroll says the firm’s previous use of virtual reality prepared employees for the firm’s first project using augmented reality.
“The beauty of these technologies is that operators are able to ‘get in’ and walk around the designs in models that are to scale,” she says. “This has provided a much better understanding of the designs in a much shorter time than ever before. Being able to try the design on before it’s built leads to a finished project that meets operator workspace and safety needs when it’s commissioned. Schedules are met and construction costs are minimized by avoiding changes during the construction phase, because the operators have, in effect, entered the facility before it’s built.”
Doyle dreams of a day when engineering designs don’t start as drawings on paper, but as a 3D BIM in augmented reality. Looking ahead, he imagines laser-scanned images of individuals being projected somewhere else to attend virtual meetings. Already, two pairs of HoloLens goggles allow teamwork for the users wearing them. The feed from the goggles can be projected onto a large screen for everyone to see or transmitted remotely. We haven’t done this yet, but a demo is scheduled.
“Using augmented reality is going to accelerate as the technology improves and becomes more accessible,” Crowder says. “In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to move and edit objects, essentially making design changes on-the-fly in thin air. Animations will become common, so you’ll be able to see a facility in full operation, with flowing water and rotating equipment. Found a dead zone in the flow stream? Reach out and move the wall to immediately see the impact of your change.
“The HoloLens mapping feature will also be a huge asset for designing renovations and additions within existing structures. We’ll also see it used extensively for things like operator training and integrated asset management, anywhere a hands-free overlay of a schematic, manual, video, or hologram would be useful, which is just about everywhere.”
About the future of augmented reality, Carroll says, “We feel it will be used at almost all design review meetings and that virtual reality or augmented reality will be used for immersive experiences where interacting with a to-scale modeled environment is needed.”
Doyle expects most wastewater treatment plants to be modeled in BIM within 10 years. “If the whole plant was in mixed reality, you could do a lot with that. It’s exciting to see,” he says.
He credits CMAR with providing the collaborative atmosphere in which new technologies can be explored. “You have to test the water a bit here and there. If it works and it’s something that we can save a lot of time and money with later, maybe it’s a huge benefit. Time will tell,” he says.
Groundbreaking on the early-start package is on schedule to begin spring 2017.